Ghosts of War

Ghosts of War

I finished my review of Overlord, the fantastic 2018 World War II zombie movie, with a call on Hollywood to be so bold as to green-light more movies like it. I was greatly pleased when I encountered Ghosts of War, a 2020 World War II horror film that seemed to be following in Overlord‘s footsteps. I’m an alternate historian, and so I’m a sucker for anything that mashes up history and the supernatural like this.

The film revolves around five American soldiers after D-Day who are tasked with holding a chateau in the French countryside from the Germans until a relief force comes. It’s a simple plot, at first, and a natural way of combining two wildly different genres.

The vast majority of actors here are people you’ve likely never heard of, with the exception of Theo Rossi, who you may recognize from Luke Cage on Netflix.

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Army of Shadows

Army of Shadows

Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right.

When Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 French Resistance classic Army of Shadows was released in the United States in 2006, many reviewers listed it as their favorite movie of the year. Newsweek called it a “fatalistic masterpiece”, The New York Times an “austere mise-en-scène in which Resistance fighters carry the shame of a nation on their squared shoulders.” LA Weekly described it as the “crowning achievement” of a director who specialized in minimalistic film noir. “Unlike the romantic images of freedom fighters perpetuated by the popular media, Melville’s movie is stripped of self-congratulatory hero worship and other puffery,” wrote the Austin Chronicle.

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Zentrum

Zentrum (the Center Party) was founded in the 1870s to protect the rights of the Catholic minority and was always held together by its commitment to Catholicism.

In the years of the Republic, it shared some views with the left. It supported the welfare state, for example, and worked for an international understanding among nations. Its leader, Matthias Erzberger, helped to uphold the Weimar Constitution and supported parliamentary democracy. Zentrum also worked for the preservation of the federal states, the Länder.

At the same time, Zentrum shared views with the right. It advocated a patriarchal system of cooperation at home and was quite conservative about the nation’s defense.

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Metropius Teaser Trailer

Think Rapture, but above ground. Metropius is the most exciting dieselpunk project currently in production. The teaser trailer, released on Thursday, reveals a city of flying cars, neon lights and robotic traffic cops.

The website describes Metropius as “a city rich on the profits of an endless WWII,” operating under corporate rule.

These corporations have a stranglehold on their citizens’ time, privacy and the world’s most valuable fossil-fuel resource which has generated Metropius’ technological growth: the rose-diesel.

The aesthetics are reminiscent of BioShock, Thomas Pringle, Stefan Prohaczka and Tim Razumovsky — in short, all the best dieselpunk creators. Alejandro Bursidio, a Spanish artist, provided concept arts when the project was still called Acropolisworld.

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Youth

Karl Mannheim
Karl Mannheim

In 1928, Karl Mannheim devised a completely new concept of generation. Not just the natural regeneration of a population, Mannheim theorized that a generation shares a common dramatic fact that influences and forms every concept, every belief, every behavior of that particular group of people that lives in the same time, place and cultural environment.

There’s no doubt that World War I formed the generation of Weimar. The young people who fought in the trenches thought their elders, their parents, their fathers and mothers, could not understand what that meant. The experience of war was so intense and life-changing that those young men truly believed nobody but others like them could understand. They did know that their fathers’ world was gone forever and its values with it, and so they thought their elders could teach them nothing useful and they had to create their own new world, with their own new values.

Besides, they were not scared of experimenting. Any novelty was worth trying.

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X-Shape of the Swastika

Symbols are strange beasts. The swastika, which has been a symbol of good luck and well-being for thousands of years and among many different peoples, in the last century has taken up a completely different meaning. At least for the Western world.

The word swastika derives from the Sanskrit su, which means “well”, and asti, which means “being”, and its form — the hooked cross — probably represents the sun and its movement across the sky.

Its use dates back to Neolithic Europe. One of the firsts swastikas was uncovered in Mezine, Ukraine, and it’s thought to be 12,000 years old. The routine use of the swastika as a symbol of good fortune probably started in Southern Europe. This area is now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with people belonging to the Vinča Culture, about 8,000 years ago. But examples of swastikas are found in many different cultures across Asia (where it is still today a symbol of good luck, for example in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism) and even in America, where it has been used by the Navajo.

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In the Presence of Mine Enemies

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

We alternate historians, and the broader popular culture more generally, rightfully think of Nazi Germany as being an incredibly violent place. You had Jewish shops being smashed on Kristallnacht after the Reichstag was set ablaze. You had bloody street brawls between Nazis and Nationalists and Social Democrats and Communists. You had political dissidents tortured in Dachau. All of this was before they manufactured a fraudulent casus belli at Gleiwitz and sent the tanks rolling into Poland, the blitzkrieg that brought France to heel, the rampage through the Soviet Union and the opening of the death factories for Jews and other “undesirables.”

In our world, such a regime was put down with bombers and tanks and bullets. Few would disagree with the notion that such a heinous regime deserved to be put down. When we alternate historians write about other worlds where the Nazi regime lasts longer, we usually project it as either falling apart into a bloody civil war, its imperial adventures causing the whole regime to unravel (often in a form of aforementioned bloody civil war), or another war between it and the other great powers that ends in something even worse than the war in our world (think the ending to Festung Europa, available from Sea Lion Press).

However, it is widely considered bigoted at least when we call any society inherently violent; in recent decades, the targets of choice are Muslims and African Americans, and calling either inherently violent is rightly tarred as extremely racist. However, we are also generally willing to say that certain governments and methods of governing are inherently violent. Which those are is often a hotly debated concept.

That tensions between society and government, and their respective tolerances for violence, is the core narrative thrust of Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies.

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Women

In the 1920s, the role of women in society shifted dramatically. Women liberated themselves. They started working outside the house, engaging in activities previously reserved to men, they discovered their sexuality and sensuality and uncovered their body.

This was a common occurrence throughout the Western World — with reaches outside of it — but it had peculiar characteristics in every single nation.

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Veterans

Veterans were a strong public presence in the Weimar Republic. A total of 1.4 million disabled veterans came back from the war, and the republic provided them with occupational training, free medical care and pensions. For the severely disabled, particular jobs were granted special protection.

Still, the republic was ill-rewarded for the care it offered, above all because expectations kept rising as the economic situation kept worsening and there was only a certain amount of money that could be devoted to this cause. Veterans normally didn’t support the republic.

By 1919, veterans were represented by seven different organizations, of which the Reichsbund der Kriegsbeschädigten und ehemaligen Kriegsteilnehmer (National Association of Disabled Soldiers and Veterans) was the most numerous with its 600,000 members and ties with the Social Democrats.

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Dominion

Dominion

The very conceit of a German victory in World War II is in and of itself a cliché in our online alternate-history communities. However, mainstream published authors have an annoying tendency (speaking as someone with approaching ten years in the online community) to not realize that fact. It feels like every few years, some mainstream author comes out with a new take on the subject that non-genre critics will fawn over briefly and at which those in my circles will roll their eyes in disdain. I think this is a manifestation of a problem that for many writers, alternate history is but one literary toy to play with rather than a dedicated genre to be explored in its own right. As a result of this, many dilettantes in the genre have little idea of the conventions thereof.

In that light, I was quite satisfied to know that C.J. Sansom had at least dipped his toes in the genre and the subject matter before writing Dominion. In his afterword, he says that he came to the conclusion that Operation Sea Lion was absolutely impossible on his own when doing research for his book. Likewise, he explicitly praises Robert Harris’ Fatherland, which is widely lauded as an alternate-history classic by the community.

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